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Here's the science behind the man who turned himself into a goat

Here's the science behind the man who turned himself into a goat
LifeScience3 min read
Being four-legged puts a lot of pressure on your arms.    Tim Bowditch

Last year, Thomas Thwaites decided to take a break from being a human and escape all his worries by transforming himself into a goat.

As he chronicles in detail in his book, "GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human" (out May 17), the process wasn't easy and required a lot of body-hacking science. Along the way, he consulted everyone from neurologists, to animal muscle specialists.

Here's how he managed to pull it off.

Altering the mind

First, he had to understand the mind of goats. So he met with a goat behavioral expert, who told him what goes on in a goat's brain. Unfortunately for Thwaites, who wanted to become worry-free, goats do tend to get anxious, he learned. He also learned about the goat's social behavior, as well as how clever they can be (one goat faked a limp to get out of an activity).

After that, he went about figuring out if he could turn off certain aspects that make him human. Thwaites met with a neuroscientist at the University College London to try and hack a system for temporarily shutting those parts off, particularly the Broca's area, which is related to speech. To Thwaites' dismay, the technology to turn off a person's ability to understand language isn't there yet.

Going from two to four-legged

Life Hand goat

Photo courtesy Tim Bowditch

So, Thwaites decided to focus on the physical aspects of becoming a goat. He experimented with some prototypes, but after a while of going it alone, he turned to the Royal Veterinary College's Structure and Motion Laboratory to get the expertise of a professor who studies animal motion. That way, they'd be able to look at goats' muscles to get a sense of how to best transform from human to animal.

At the same time, Thwaites also needed prosthetics to give him goat-like limbs, which he had built by a prosthetics clinic at the University of Salford. Transitioning from two to four legs puts a lot of pressure on the front limbs that can be pretty painful, so the team tried to do everything they could to make the goat legs as pain-free as possible, while also protecting Thwaites neck and back from getting damaged along the way.

Digesting grass

Photo courtesy Tim Bowditch

A nice dinner of pressure-cooked grass.

Beyond a goat-like anatomy, Thwaites also had to learn how to eat like a goat. Goats, like other plant eaters, have an organ called a rumen that is filled with microorganisms that help them break down grass into edible sugars.

Thwaites considered swallowing a microbial mixture that would mimic the rumen and help him digest the grass, but he was told that would be unsafe; who knew what kind of bugs live in a goat's rumen that could potentially be harmful to a human's gut? Thwaites also considered using a chemical enzyme that would break down the grass, though that also presented some safety problems.

In the end, he built himself a pouch to collect the grass he grazed on during the day. Then at night he used a pressure cooker to cook the grass and break it down into a kind of "grass-stewy soup."

As much as technological advancements aided Thwaites' adventure, the shortcomings along the way were fairly disappointing. Thwaites told Business Insider that he'd eventually like to work on building a "kind of artificial rumen," but that'll likely take some time.

The next major transformation he'd like to make? Changing his eyesight to be more like a goat. For his first attempt, he avoided it because the only options involved using virtual reality technology, as opposed to just popping on a pair of goggles that would shift his eyesight more to the sides of his head.

"I just think I'd like to continue iterating this thing to get to the dream to actually gallop," he said.

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